Summary: Ophie learns that she can see ghosts the night her father is killed by a lynch mob, and his spirit directs her how to save herself and her mother. The two of them flee to Pittsburgh, where they stay with relatives. The cousins bully Ophie, but her Aunt Rose, who also has the ability to see ghosts, instructs Ophie how to use her gift. When Ophie and her mother start working at Daffodil Manor, Ophie has her hands full serving mean old Mrs. Carruthers and trying to figure out with the various “haints” that occupy the house. One spirit in particular, a beautiful young woman named Clara, is kind and helpful to Ophie. Clara was killed in the house, but has no recollection of how it happened, and enlists Ophie to help her solve the mystery. Although Clara seems kind, she’s a ghost, and Aunt Rose has warned Ophie that ghosts can always be dangerous no matter how friendly they seem. As Ophie begins to unravel Clara’s mystery and close in on the murderer, it starts to seem as though danger is waiting for her in every corner of the spooky old mansion. 336 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Part ghost story, part historical fiction, this engaging story will draw readers in from the suspenseful prologue, and keep them guessing all the way to the end. Ophie’s life as a Black girl in the 1920’s, first in Georgia and then in Pittsburgh, is filled with injustice and hardship, and it takes all her strength and special gifts to turn things around for her and her mother. I hope this book will get some award consideration.
Cons: Not really a con, but more of a warning: if you don’t like spooky stories or aren’t quite ready for Halloween just yet, you may want to take this week off from reading the blog! 😉
Summary: These two collections of scary short stories were released in August, just in time to get in the library before Halloween. Only If You Dare has 13 stories, mostly about kids whose normal lives are disturbed by some supernatural aspect. They try to dismiss it at first, but eventually the nightmare comes true, the doll comes to life…well, you get the idea. Hide and Don’t Seek is a collection of 19 stories, with a little more variety in the format, including a poem, a story told all in texts, and a collection of letters from a summer camp that you might want to avoid sending your kids to. Both books have plenty of illustrations just in case your imagination isn’t overstimulated enough. Only If You Dare is 208 pages, Hide and Don’t Seek is 224; both recommended for grades 4-7.
Pros: Anyone who has worked in a library frequented by kids knows that these books will never be on the shelves. The demand for scary stories is huge, and these stories are truly creepy. Some kids’ horror is more funny than horrifying, but not these two collections. They are definitely scary without being too disturbing for the intended age group.
Cons: Horror is not and has never been my favorite genre, so reading 32 scary stories in a row…let’s just say I’ll be avoiding dolls and clowns for a while.
Summary: Every year, the residents of Wolver Hollow grow mustaches or wear fake ones on October 19. When Parker and Lucas get to fifth grade, they’re old enough to finally learn why. According to local legend, many years ago Wolver Hollow resident Bockius Beauregard was vaporized in an explosion, with only his mustache surviving. Every year the haunted mustache goes out looking for a hair-free lip to rest on. The two boys decide to investigate to find out if the tale is true, reluctantly including their classmate, ghost expert Samantha von Oppelstein. The three of them have a series of hair-raising adventures, but finally succeed in defeating the mustache. Or do they? 160 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This first of a three-part series is just the right blend of funny and scary for new chapter book readers. The cliffhanger ending will have kids eagerly seeking out book 2. Book 3 comes out in February.
Cons: I hope the boys will eventually feel comfortable enough with Samantha von Oppelstein to drop the von Oppelstein and simply call her Samantha.
Summary: On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle. Six hours later, that man parachuted out of the back of the plane with $200,000 strapped to him. No trace of him has ever been found, and only a small portion of the money has been recovered ($5,800 was discovered by a 10-year-old boy in 1980 when he was camping with his family in the woods of Washington). The details of what happened that day are retold here with brief text, illustrations, and primary documents such as Cooper’s boarding pass and the transcript from the plane alerting the authorities about the hijacking. Includes half a dozen photos and a list of sources. 104 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It’s hard to imagine a kid unimaginative enough not to be intrigued by this mystery (and gobsmacked that in 1971 you could walk into an airport with a bomb, buy a ticket for $20, and saunter onto a plane unchecked). The graphic format is appealing, but it’s also well-written nonfiction, with theories put forth and then carefully debunked, primary documents, and an impressive list of sources. Look for book 2, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, coming in early September.
Cons: The font, designed to look like it was made with a typewriter that needs a new ribbon, feels authentic but is not necessarily the easiest for kids to read.
Summary: Aven Green from Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus tells how she got her start as a detective back in third grade. In this first installment, she’s working on two mysteries: who is stealing food at her elementary school and what has happened to her grandmother’s beloved dog? Aven is confident in her problem-solving ability (“all of the cells that were supposed to make my arms went into making my brain instead”), and has some good friends who are happy to help. Both cases are cracked by the last page, and there’s a preview of book two, due out in August. Includes a glossary of Aven’s sleuthing words. 128 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: It’s great to meet Aven as a third-grader and learn how she got her start solving mysteries. She is matter-of-fact in her explanation of how she was born with no arms, and both the text and the illustrations show her doing everything for herself with her feet. Her voice is funny and confident, making this a surefire hit with the early chapter book crowd.
Cons: I’m not sure if that crowd will understand the hemorrhoid joke in the “Robot Chickens” chapter.
Summary: Alligators Mango and Brash find themselves investigating multiple cases: first up is the mysterious disappearance of Chef Gustavo. The two don fake mustaches, then head for the restaurant where Gustavo worked. When the oversized cake they bake there shows up after a huge explosion in a science lab, it seems as though an even more nefarious plot is afoot. It’s up to these two reptilian detectives to crack a series of cases, catch the villains, and get the good chef back to his bakery where he belongs. Includes instructions for drawing Mango, Brash, and C-ORB. First in a series, book 2, Take the Plunge is also available. 208 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: The whole time I was reading this, I kept envisioning 8-year-old kids coming up to me to share some goofball passage that would be totally cracking them up. I mustache you to consider this guaranteed crowd-pleaser for your own library.
Summary: Atticus “Atty” Peale knows what it’s like to be different. Her white father and black stepmother and brother make the family stand out in their small Alabama town. She’s learned to speak up for herself, and being the daughter of a public defender makes her want to speak up for others. When she and her younger brother Martinez get to know Easy, a shelter dog accused of biting a man, Atty becomes the dog’s advocate, going to court to try to save him from being put down. Meanwhile, her father is spending long hours at the jail, working to save his own client, a neighbor and friend accused of murder. Could the two cases be connected? Atty, Martinez, and an interesting new seventh grade friend named Reagan need to keep their wits about them to solve the mysteries. 240 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: A fun girl detective with a mind and voice of her own make this debut novel a good choice for mystery fans. There’s lots more there than just cracking the case: the perils of seventh grade, many well-developed quirky characters, and the impoverished but close-knit Alabama small town setting.
Cons: The plot seemed to meander quite a bit, and a subplot about an alligator didn’t seem essential to the rest of the story.
Summary: Agent Anonymoose is recovering from the failure of what would have been his 100th case (he thought the moon was missing, but it was really a lunar eclipse). When he hears that his rival Camo Chameleon has just solved his 100th case, it just rubs salt in the wound. But then a chipmunk arrives with an important message: a key witness in Camo’s last case has disappeared. Agent Moose and his wise sidekick Owlfred head to the chameleon’s 100th-case celebration to investigate. There are adventures and red herrings a-plenty before the two of them manage to crack the case. The mystery is solved, but the villains make a last-minute escape, setting up a second adventure for Agent Moose and Owlfred. 128 pages; grades 1-3.
Pros: Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap, rejoice! This is sure to be a hit with the many readers who love graphic novels with plenty of action and zany humor.
Cons: There were a lot of characters to keep track of.
Summary: Jamila wants to spend the summer playing basketball, but her mother plans to sign her up for science camp. A chance encounter with a slightly odd girl named Shirley at a yard sale changes the course of her vacation. Shirley and her mother come to visit the next day, and the moms agree to let them spend their days together on the basketball court. Shirley seems to spend her days reading, but she gradually reveals her amazing powers of observation to Jamila. One day an 8-year-old boy named Oliver comes to the court to ask Shirley for help. It turns out she has a reputation as the neighborhood detective, and his gecko has been stolen from the local pool. Shirley gets to work, with Jamila tagging along. Solving the case almost ends their budding friendship, but in the end, each one sees how she needs the other. Shirley pulls a grand reveal to all involved in the case, as she unmasks the culprit, but also manages to plant seeds of friendships with the kids involved in the case. 224 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: A clever graphic mystery with a bit of a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Shirley has Sherlock’s astute powers of observation and lack of social skills, while Jamila serves as a Watson-like narrator and assistant. The characters are well-developed, and most readers will have to wait for Shirley’s grand reveal to figure out who stole the gecko. I also liked that both characters have just turned 10, as most middle grade novels seem to feature slightly older characters. This seems like a perfect series opener, so we can keep our fingers crossed there will be more mysterious fun to come.
Cons: I was hoping all the kids would become friends at the end, but Jamila and Shirley seemed like they were moving on.
Summary: Gabby and her family have always spent their summer vacation at the family’s lakeside cabin. But this year is different. At the beginning of the week, her father announces that he’s being transferred, but doesn’t know where yet. And there’s a new family staying next door with two obnoxious kids the same age as Gabby and her younger brother. The parents insist that the kids hang out together, and they find themselves breaking into a mysterious mansion that’s been abandoned for years. The house fires up Gabby’s imagination, and she begins writing a mystery about it. When new girl Paige finds out, they start collaborating, using clues they’ve found in the house. Things get a little too real as they begin to find evidence of foul play, possibly involving their kind old neighbor. By the time the week ends, bookworm Gabby has realized that there’s plenty of adventure to be found in real life, and when the family finds out where they’re moving, she’s ready for a new chapter to unfold. 256 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Scholastic Graphix hasn’t disappointed me yet, and this fun summer graphic novel is sure to find many, many fans among the Telgemeier-Holm-Jamieson crowd. The mystery is fun, and family and friendship issues feel real, yet wrap up reassuringly.
Cons: I’d love to see another story about Gabby and/or Paige, but as near as I can tell there are no plans for a series.